Béla Bartók (bā´lə bär´tŏk, Hung. bā´lô bôr´tōk), 1881–1945, Hungarian composer and collector of folk music. He studied (1899–1903) and later taught piano at the Royal Academy, Budapest. In 1905 he and Zoltán Kodály began to collect folk music of Eastern Europe, and throughout his life Bartók devoted much attention to folk music of varied origin. As a composer he gained his first success with his mime play The Wooden Prince (1914–16). An opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911), and a ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin (1919), also gained notice. He became better known, however, for his compositions for piano, for violin, and for orchestra. Among his piano works are a set of progressive studies called Mikrokosmos (1926–39), three piano concertos (1929, 1931, 1945), and a sonata for two pianos and percussion (1927). Bartók's important orchestral works include Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and Concerto for Orchestra (1943). Among his most important achievements are his six string quartets. Utilizing in varying degrees folk elements, atonality, and traditional techniques, Bartók achieved an original modern style, which has had a great influence on 20th-century music. In 1940 he emigrated to the United States and was commissioned by Columbia Univ. to transcribe a large collection of Yugoslav folk melodies. He spent his last years in poverty and neglect, but after his death his fame grew steadily. Among his studies of folk music that have been published in English are The Hungarian Folk Song (tr. 1931) and Serbo-Croatian Folk Songs (with A. B. Lord, 1951).
See his letters, ed. by J. Demeny (1971); biographies by H. Stevens (rev. ed. 1964), A. Fassett (1958, repr. 1971), and P. Griffiths (1984); study by E. Antokoletz (1989).